Give to Live!

Give to Live!

GIVE TO LIVE! – the benefits and ways of generosity.

Generosity is good for you.

Generosity and life expectancy are among the six variables scientists look at when making the World Happiness Report, which is released annually by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network for the United Nations.

Giving, or true generosity, can be described as the act of recognising the mutual dignity inherent in all life, and then working to balance the evolving empowerment of life.

Put simply, giving from the heart.

We are biologically ‘wired’ for generosity – in our childhood we are reliant on the giving of others, as we grow older generosity to others is a good way to balance and ‘give back’.

Being generous does more than benefit the receiver, it has a big impact on our well-being and, not surprisingly, studies show that one of the biggest benefactors of ‘giving’ is the person who gives – YOU!

The feel-good effects of giving begin in the brain. The effect is  called “giver’s glow,” its the response being triggered by brain chemistry in the mesolimbic pathway, which recognizes rewarding stimuli.

Philanthropy “doles out several different happiness chemicals,” says Stephen G. Post, director of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics at New York’s Stony Brook University of Medicine, “including dopamine, endorphins that give people a sense of euphoria and oxytocin, which is associated with tranquillity, serenity or inner peace.” Generosity also lowers the risk of dementia and reduces anxiety and depression. As Post says “If you were somehow able to package this into a compound, you’d be a billionaire overnight”.

As well as making us feel good, giving and being generous can reduce blood pressure and the ‘stress hormone’ cortisol – helping provide that ‘lift’ in mood. And that’s not all – giving can enhance our sense of purpose and increase the givers life span.

That’s right, giving and living longer are connected.

The good news is that we all have something to give, and giving allows us to align our actions with our values.

It doesn’t matter how large or small the gifting is, or the nature of it. What does matter is that we recognise the need to give, and care enough to do so, even if it’s just a smile.

Hopefully having read this you are inspired to give giving a go. Here are some inspirations for you:

 Participate in a community cleanup day.
 Become a mentor for a young person.
 Serve meals at a local soup kitchen.
 Help at the local hospital.
 Visit an elderly neighbour.
 Donate items to a homeless shelter.
 Donate clothes and household goods to a thrift store.
 Give to charities or ‘profit for purpose’ groups like Ability life.
 Shop or clean the home of a sick friend.
 Organize a fundraising morning tea for a local charity.
 Put your change in a jar and donate it next month.
 Volunteer some time at your church or community centre.
 Practice random acts of kindness.
 Create a SHAREBOX by your letterbox and invite neighbours to put in their spare produce, used books etc.
 Visit a nursing home – chat or take your dog along if you can.
 Offer to pay someone’s bill next time you’re buying coffee.
 Cook someone a meal.
 Give time or money to a local charity.
 Call family or friends you haven’t spoken with for a while.
 Give a stranger a compliment.
 SMILE at people – anywhere, anytime.

So let’s give to live, give to be healthy, give to be happy – and give abundantly, simply because it’s a good thing to do.

AL
P.S. Read our page on Giving here …

 

 

Mindfulness – focused or unfocused explained

Mindfulness – focused or unfocused explained

Mindfulness is a buzz word these days, the thing to do, but is ‘being in the moment’ doing? It can be.

The practice of mindfulness – the act of purposely paying attention and being aware of the experience of the moment you are living, without judgement – is an active thing in itself; focusing and paying attention takes effort and energy whether you are practising mindfulness in a formal sitting for a focused or guided meditation, or more informally while you’re doing things such as practicing open awareness whilst taking a walk.

Mindfulness has been defined as awareness, but its more than that. Mindfulness has been defined as paying attention, but its more than that. Mindfulness has been described as consciousness, but its more than that too.

Yet mindfulness IS awareness, IS consciousness, and it IS paying attention. But it is also about cultivating a quality of mind, a mental stance that notices, on purpose, and without judgement or attachment. It’s about cultivating a balance of mind that does not favour one thing or reject another. A mind that allows things to arise and pass away without trying to hold on or push away. It’s coming to see things, the experience of the moment, whatever is happening, clearly.

Mindfulness is an ongoing practice, not an end result. The intention is to cultivate awareness, the attention is on the experience of the present moment, and the attitudinal address is curiosity in a non judgemental way, with kindness. Mindfulness is a practice that, when coupled with the practice of Vipassana, the gentle open exploration of whatever arises, can bring about the real rewards of understanding, equanimity, and wisdom.

Benefits

There are many other benefits, particularly health and mental health benefits, that have been confirmed by numerous clinical trials. The results prove the efficacy, particularly in emotional, physical, and psychological wellbeing.

It’s worth mentioning here that the word well-being encapsulates a weave of things including what Aristotle had to say when referencing Eudaimonic well-being (as opposed to hedonistic), is was said to be central to … ’reasoning, happiness, and a rich and fulfilling life; and a start point for thinking about the nature of human life – its virtue and ultimate fulfillment’.

But back to forms of mindfulness, focused and unfocused.

Focused mindfulness, where the breath, mantra or object is the focus of attention.

Focused mindfulness is the best way to learn mindfulness – and it’s easy to learn and practice. Using an object, like sounds or the breath, for the mind to pay attention to helps keep other thoughts and emotions at bay, easing restlessness and steadying the mind.

If the mind wanders off as it tends to do, practising focused mindfulness will help you to recognise this and bring the attention back to the object. This is an active practice of concentration and focus, and it takes energy to do it.

Most focused mindfulness is practiced formally as a sitting or guided sitting meditation such as breath awareness, mindfulness of the senses or metta (loving kindness/compassion) meditation. There is also a focused formal mindful walking practice, more about that later.

If you are time or interest poor and want to try a short focussed practice, you can use any task, and just do it mindfully. My favourites are a ‘mindful mouthful’ or a ‘single sip’. These two activities happen all the time, the mindful mouthful takes longer than the single sip so I have written the practice out below. If you only want the quick single sip exercise, just cut out everything but the mouth and sip.

Mindful Mouthful / Single Sip exercise

First taking a breath – and if you can it’s good to keep a tiny piece of attention on the breath throughout this exercise – then pause to note to yourself that you are doing this practice.

To begin, be aware of the movement of the head and eyes in assessing where the cup of liquid is. Note the tension in the shoulder and arm as you begin the movement to reach out to the glass, then as the hand lifts let your focus settle on the movement of all the muscles.

Feel the stretch of the fingers to the glass. Note the contraction of the muscles as they grasp it, note the temperature of it, and the weight as your muscles contract and move to lift it.

Notice how the mouth prepares to receive the liquid, the relaxing of the jaw, the repositioning of the lips and mouth. Follow the continuing flex and movement of muscle in the arm and hand, the re-positioning of the head to receive the liquid, the feel of the glass and then the liquid on the lips as you take it in.

The inbreath sip, the temperature and taste, the tongue and jaw movement to swallow, the throat contraction and release, the mouth re opening, jaws dropping to release the glass. The sensations in the throat and stomach having received the sip.

The wrist tipping back, flexing, straightening the arm, the head turning and tilting while the arm and hand moves to replace the glass from where it came. The release of the fingers on the glass, the relaxing of the muscle tension in the shoulder, arm, hand and fingers, the repositioning of the head. Next note the intention to end the exercise, noticing any sensations, thoughts, or feelings about having done so.

This exercise can take moments or minutes, its up to you, each time.

Unfocused mindfulness, or ‘open’ mindfulness, is where we notice whatever it is that comes to our attention.

Unfocused mindfulness is to open the mind, it is a non directive meditation to allow a mental spaciousness and ease that can encompass whatever happens in and around you, without getting caught up in it.

A teacher once explained to me that he felt it as a gentle wise and caring person sitting on a bench in a playground, aware of the children and dogs playing, aware of the sights and sounds, the smells, noticing thoughts, reactions and emotions appearing and passing through as different aspects of sights and sounds happened, but rather than getting caught up in them, not responding to urges to be anything, do anything or go anywhere, just content to just be here, open and gently curious, fully aware and present.

Informal movement

Sometimes I practice both focused and unfocused meditation at the same time, particularly during movement practices or bush walks. Put simply I pay attention to my breath and muscles then hold them in semi awareness whilst practising ‘open senses’ awareness of whatever is happening in the creation around me.

For those who prefer a more overall practice here are some guidelines.

Before you begin take scan of how your body feels and make a point of noting it. Is your body feeling light, heavy, limber, stiff? Note your emotional and mental condition, is your emotion balanced or a bit wobbly? Your mind clear or cloudy? if you can, name what state is present in you (well, happy, upset, anxious).

When you’ve finished the scan let everything you’ve come to go, let it float away.

Informal Movement meditation

Now bring your attention to the whole body. As you do your warm up exercises, get an overall sense of how the movement feels then try and match your breath to your movements – not too slow, not too quick, just allow your body movement and your breath to synchronise naturally.

When you begin to move bring your toes and foot muscles into awareness, then the legs, knees, and lastly thighs. Notice the balance and movement, the rhythm and pace and the flow of the muscles as you move.

Next bring in your hips to awareness, noting the different tensions and balances in the lower body as the ground changes.

Next bring in upper body, noticing the arms, chest and the breath, allowing the breath and bodily movements to synchronise, finding the ease of rhythm.

Then open awareness out, allowing all the senses to flow in.
Noticing sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch … letting it all arrive and pass, come and go and flow. Inviting an awareness of the whole body in action and in harmony.

At the end of the exercise, stop and take time to scan the body again. Noting the changes in the body, emotion, the mind, and mental state.

For those who prefer to undertake the formal walking meditation, an introduction to the formal walking practice can be found on the website under the heading ‘In the Workplace’ and called ‘Walk the Block” from the link below.

Be active. Be well.
AL

Access meditations … here …

 

 

Sound and Silence

Sound and Silence

When I wrote this blog it was raining outside, mist sitting on the western hillside and a steady comforting hum in the air from the constant, gentle, deluge. It was early in the morning and the trees full of birds, each one calling into the new day to announce its aliveness and presence with their unique songs, trills, and whistles.

How comforting sounds can be.

Listening to sounds can induce many emotions. A friend of mine who could never conceive a child, cries even now at the sound of a baby’s gurgle, and who has not been moved by a song, connecting us directly to the feelings of the past, some sharp, some sad, some sweet, but always evocative.

As we grew up my sisters and I would put a particular record on the player (no ipods then) just to see our mother cry, which she did every time she heard this particular piece of music. We never did ask her why, and she never would tell us, perhaps a sign of the times when personal emotion was held private rather than something to seek attention from. Anyway, many years later when visiting her grave, we finally saw the reason for her tears. There on the gravestone of her younger brother buried next to her, was the title of that song ‘arrivederci darling’ – goodbye, ‘til we see each other again…

Sound itself is an energy transmitted by pressure waves; a sensation perceived by us as the sense of hearing. People with hearing loss can often ‘hear’ some sound, particularly the humming sound from a brass string or the boom of drums. However, as with any sense, if that sense is lost our amazing brain rewires itself to capture that under used section into the other senses, sometimes creating a ‘super sense’ such as increased sense of sight for the hearing impaired.

Sounds and Healing

Sounds have been used for healing for centuries to clear energetics blockages and reduce stress. From classical music and the sound of nature’s fauna, winds, and waters to percussive instruments like drums, gongs and singing bowls.

Listening to particular sounds can alleviate stress and expedite healing.

For some listeners, moving into a meditative state helps to calm the mind, and in turn the amygdala the brains emotion processor, allowing a cooling of process and a subsequent reduction of inflammation throughout the body. Turned outward, deep listening is a practice of deep connection.

It’s interesting to note that human beings only register the hearing of sound within a certain frequency, yet a person does not have to consciously hear something to be affected.

Watching a science based tv program on sounds that trigger fear recently, a low frequency sound was played to a group of people to (successfully) prove an increased fear activation, regardless of it being soundless. Interesting. On the other end, hearing sound from the so called ‘God Frequency’ – 963 Hz – activates the pineal gland, clearing brain fog, and giving cool clarity to thought processes and peace.

There is much more of the effects of sound on the human being to be discovered, but in the meantime the effects are certainly something for us to consider in our daily lives.

Silence

You would think that silence is the absence of sound, yet even silence can have a texture or resonance.

Who has not ‘heard’ the sound texture of a tense electric silence, perhaps with a felt potency within it that ‘anything can happen’, or experienced the awkward discomfort and tightness of a strained silence?

And what about the texture of silence after a stunning theatre performance before the applause breaks out to shatter it, or the deep dense quiet of a snow-covered mountain, the humming open silence of a dessert, or the full, soft silence of a rainforest?

Silence and Spirituality

For time immemorable people have used silence to connect with nature, the creation and the Creator.

I live on Whadjuk Noongar land in Australia, and Aboriginal people have a few words to describe silence, or deep listening. One of them, called ‘dadirri’, is practiced without judgement and with no expectation, it’s just about quietly waiting with awareness, and an inner open stillness.

Writing for Creative Spirits, Aboriginal Elder Miriam Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann described deep listening as “ … inner, deep listening and quiet, still awareness. Dadirri recognises the deep spring that is inside us. We call on it and it calls to us … lived for thousands of years with natures quietness. My people today, recognise and experience in this quietness, the great Life-Giving Spirit, the Father of us all”.

Many spiritual practices include deep listening, such as the Budhist insight (Vipassana) meditation, or the Christian spiritual training of Lectio Divina, or Divine Reading. In all the phases of Lectio Divina – reading, meditating, praying, and contemplating –silence is practised, but in particular the last phase. In this phase a deep inner silence is mainatained, a open still awareness that is also an invitation to experience insights from the Spirit of God within.

As well as a deeper spiritual connection, many people use silence regularly as a mental and emotional health tool. Whatever form it takes, from long walks to quiet sitting, the practice of silence is about becoming more attuned and responsive to the inner life of ourselves, rather than reacting to the outer. 

An informal way of practicing silence – and one that quickly reveals the fruits of doing it – is to simply choose a time to practice it. Famously, Actor Steve Mc Queen practiced silence for a whole day each month for most of his life. If a day is too long for you, start with less, even a tiny 3 seconds before responding to anyone can reveal so much, not least that mostly our responses are either reactive or empty, or are often not needed at all.

So much energy and presence can be gained by consicous silence.

Silence is a significant part of many contemplation and meditation practices, with mindfulness bringing in awareness of the moment-by-moment experience to the fore, rather than seeking to silence it. If, however, you choose to be quiet or meditate to find inner stillness, know that deep silence can be hard to reach and hold against the ongoing internal dialogue and noise, regardless of how quiet or fitting the place of practice is. Hence the term to accept before beginning a silent or meditation practice is to note the term used, a ‘practice’.

Moving toward more inner silence in our lives helps us to channel our energies, meditate and rebalance from the noise and activity of the experiences of outer life. It can allow a new perspective, and within that an opportunity to recognise the paradigms through which we view the world. In turn this allows the freedom of choice, should we wish to change or expand them.

Silence is indeed golden, a golden opportunity toward achieving a deep inner quiet, and the path toward equanimity and peace.

Lectio Divina, Mindfulness and quieting Meditations can be found here …

AL

Twixtmas Reflections

Twixtmas Reflections

Twixtmas is that quiet, special time betwixt and between the Christmas gatherings and the New Year celebrations. Twixtmas offers a quiet time, a time to rest, reflect and, perhaps, make a New Year’s Resolution.

New Year’s Resolutions date back over 4000 years from Ancient Babylonian celebrations which included paying off debts incurred in the previous year, returning borrowed items, and planting new crops. The celebrations lasted for 12 days in March, and then the timing changed with the onset of the Romans bringing in the Julian Calendar, and the start of the New Year then began on January 1st.

Interestingly the Romans had a God of New Beginnings called Janus. Janus had two faces, one for looking back and reflecting on what has past, and one looking forward to new beginnings.
Leaping forward to the late 1800s, new year’s resolutions took on a more moral and spiritual nature and, over the last century, have also encompassed denying aspects of worldly pleasures, the invoking of self-discipline, compassion of others, and a deepening of held values.

Today, we are so busy with work and the myriad of entertainment, stimulation, and distraction options, it is easy to let slip those importance’s of life – our values, and to live, learn, give and grow.

So, the challenge for us is to find time in this often-frenetic end of year/start of year activity.

Twixtmas is a time to embrace; a time to pause, self-measure and take stock. A time to look back and reflect and discern if what we say we are, is what we know ourselves to be.

Insights arising from this gentle and important practice can form a fundamental part of how to move forward in life and supply the seed of any New Year’s Resolution you may make.

Especially at this time of year, I spend time in nature, read inspiring books and writings, listen pod casts and do Lectio Divina to help deepen my response to the gift that life is. Recently I came across something that originated in Japan with the idea of promoting reflection which caught me immediately, it’s called a Tanka.

Like a Haiku, the Tanka is a poem of sorts. It has a strict structure of lines and syllables, and it need not rhyme.

Here’s an example of an ancient Tanka by Izumi Shikibu which I hope you will find time to reflect on.

How invisibly
It changes colour
In this world
The flower, of the human heart.

And another, this a more modern sample to spend time with by Andrea Dietrich:

We ran gleefully
Chasing the summers fireflies
Putting them in jars …
Those warm nights of our childhood –
They flickered, and then were gone.

Whilst I value the reflections that arise from these evocative Tanka’s, I have also found that the process of writing one is quietly satisfying and cultivates a rare peacefulness. In turn, having moved into a more reflective mood during the writing of this blog, I pass a reflection that arose in the process.

A life without reflection lacks the insight, understanding and foundation on which our deeper soul and spirit life depend.

Unfortunately, its not a Tanka, but I hope it is something that will encourage your own reflection.

Wishing you a Merry Christmas, a Quiet Twixtmas and a Happy New Year

AL

Access mindful meditations and Lectio Divina here …

 

Overcoming Depression through Resilience

Overcoming Depression through Resilience

Many of us will unfortunately suffer depression at some time in our life. The ending of a relationship, being made redundant, severe illness, these are the kinds of events that can throw us off balance, robbing us of our self-esteem, motivation, and enjoyment of life.

A friend of mine who is a psychiatric nurse said recently that she had concluded that empowerment is often more effective than anti-depressants. I believe this to be true. So, I want to share with you the resilience model that I used in the hope it may also be of benefit to someone-else.

In the late 90s I became deeply depressed. I felt physically and mentally exhausted and the world became a small, dark place flooded only with an overwhelming sense of loss and sadness. I was having suicidal thoughts. Yet within 2 months I had managed to turn this around, though it was the hardest thing I have ever done.

Previously, I had read about a workshop entitled “Strategies for Balancing a Complicated Life”, led by Dr. Marjorie Blanchard. In this workshop she introduced participants to a resilience model based on research on stress survivors (psychologically resilient people) and research on peak happiness experiences. The same ingredients were significant in both cases that is:

Perspective, Autonomy, Connectedness, Tone.

Though designed for a corporate workplace setting, over the years I modified and added to those ideas to be more generally relevant. This tool was the keystone of my recovery from depression.

PERSPECTIVE

The definition of perspective according to the Oxford English Dictionary is “a particular way of regarding something”, “an understanding of the relative importance of things”.

It is guaranteed that in the closed world of depression our thinking/feeling life will be out of balance, and we will not be seeing things in perspective. Taking a bigger picture view can help us keep things in context.

One way to do this is through finding our life direction, mission, or purpose – something deeply meaningful and of great value that can help us weather the down times. For me, it was trying to get a sense of where my life was going, and I looked to my core values for guidance before asking myself “what do I really want for my life?”.

Victor Frankl, a Viennese professor of Neurology and Psychiatry who survived the Auschwitz Nazi concentration camp subsequently wrote in his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, that he believed this to be man’s greatest need, greatest desire.
He also observed that the single most important factor in who survived, and who did not in the camp, was attitude.

Looking For the Positives

The attitude of looking for the positives was a vital factor in my recovery. I came to the view that everything that happens, even trauma, is an opportunity for growth and the need to search relentlessly for those opportunities. I continually asked myself “What can I learn from this situation? What can it teach me?” It may be hard to believe in silver linings when depressed, but this is a simple and effective tool to use.

A friend of mine had to experience homelessness, estrangement from family, major illness, inability to find work, and poverty, to eventually shift her thinking away from black and white, judgmental thinking to becoming a more understanding, caring and compassionate person.

Some positives we can only discover after the event, so it’s important to stay open to the possibility. There are countless examples of people whose trauma has triggered a major change in life direction in a positive way. In Australia two high profile examples are Rosie Batty and Grace Tame who have respectively made domestic violence and sexual abuse national conversations.

Believing in ourselves and our possibility is also relevant here. We may have reached a low point where the outlook is bleak but examples from the natural worlds can encourage and give hope. Think of the caterpillar that becomes the chrysalis in dark, limiting confinement and then emerges as the wonder of the butterfly. It says we are meant to ultimately live in beauty and freedom and that transformation can happen through dark times.

A great human example was famous ex-cricketer Shane Warne. He once told how he had been absolutely shattered as a teenager when he was rejected for the AFL. It had been his life dream. But “you have a choice” he said, “you can either become a victim and blame everyone, or you can use that loss to become more determined to achieve”. Working hard to perfect his bowling skills, he certainly did, ultimately being named as one of the top 5 sportsmen in the world!

Acceptance and Commitment

This was another aspect of perspective that was instrumental in my recovery. Firstly, accepting the situation (loss and depression) but then immediately asking the question “So what can I do to help myself?”

I realized I had more resource tools that were right for me, gathered over decades of personal growth and healing work, than anyone I could possibly go to, and I decided now was the time to truly test them. I also had to accept that when I found myself in a very dark place, sometimes I just had to go to bed, and I would sleep as if drugged. It was as if my being had to knock me out for a while. But there would always be some point in the day when I felt just that little bit better, and I committed to seizing that moment to do something, however small, to help myself.

Resilience to me doesn’t necessarily mean being unaffected, but rather that after each relapse you pick yourself up and try again. The important thing is to keep nudging forward.

Gratitude

Gratitude is a very healing and strengthening emotion. Even in depression there will always be something to be grateful for. I felt gratitude for the resources I had and for the opportunities in my life that had exposed me to those resources. And even with the ending of a close relationship or the passing of a loved partner, we can be grateful for the time we had with that person and the good things we experienced.

Grateful in registering life and existence as an incredible gift; valuing being born human with all its extraordinary abilities and living on this amazing, beautiful, and bountiful planet Earth, a rarity in the cosmos.Re-linking to these things in times of major stress helped me deal with day-to-day challenges.

AUTONOMY

Autonomy is about being in charge of your life, being self-determining, a sense of having choices. It is here you can create a toolkit of resources to help you in stressful times and to help maintain balance ongoingly in your life.

Everyone will be in different situations, and everyone will be open and responsive to different methods so it’s important to find what you are drawn to and what works for you. For me it was the attraction to right brain techniques, which include things like bodywork, movement, creative arts, personal imagery, creative visualisation, meditative states, intuition, and connectivity.

As depression is a form of ‘stuckness’ – the mind is stuck in habitual, repetitive, negative patterns – we need to create fluidity and space in the mind to loosen structure and facilitate positive change. I used flushing techniques like free flow writing, ‘gibberish meditation’, shaking meditation, and Vipassana (mindfulness) meditation to clear the mind and energy pathways.

The mind and body are connected so negative mental patterns can play out into the body in the form of patterns of tension. When we begin to free up these holding patterns through physical shaking or witnessing, we also begin to release the related patterns in the mind.

I found Free flow writing especially beneficial, but it takes commitment. Every day for at least a month I wrote whatever came into my mind for half an hour when I woke up in the morning. It’s a ‘stream of consciousness’ kind of long handwriting where you empty your thoughts in the moment, without judgment or censorship. As no-one else would read it, I just let it flow – the important thing is just to keep the pen moving! I found some of the writing trivial, but it can also be healing, insightful and profound.

Julia Cameron in her bestselling book The Artist’s Way uses something similar in her Morning Pages exercise towards creative freedom and inner growth.

Positive Affirmation

Another positive pattern I created was to say something to myself before bed, and then straight after waking up to reinforce it. There are many affirmations you can do and its especially useful to make one up for yourself too.

In my depression, listening to the book Conversations with God also helped to remind me of my purpose, and who I truly am beyond my everyday persona. It was very affirming. The book is about God talking with someone at a very low point in their life. He discusses a range of relevant topics with fresh viewpoints, tough love, and a sense of humour. I hope you try it.

CONNECTEDNESS

Connecting with others, talking to others, are important thing to do when you are down: being prepared to be vulnerable where appropriate and practicing respectful communication of innermost thoughts and feelings. Expressing these things through communicating can mean that, ultimately, there are no loose ends, nothing more to be said. Subsequently there is less likelihood of ‘living in the past’ with regrets.

Selecting a few close friends or family members who are caring, understanding and supportive can be critical in helping us deal with major stresses in our lives.

After about a month of struggling with my depression I began to see a glimmer of light, and at this stage I was able to consider being part of a group. I felt very vulnerable, but two things that helped me enormously were a gentle, nurturing yoga class that soothed and uplifted my bruised spirit, and joining a small choir that focused on songs about the ocean.

There has been a lot of research on the benefits of choirs for mental health. As well as being uplifting, singing stimulates the production of oxytocin which is important for bonding and a sense of belonging and connectedness.

Connecting with the Environment

Connecting more deeply to nature, whether it’s sitting by the ocean or gazing at a starry sky also helps, allowing us to find peace and balance and a greater sense of wellbeing. Dr Blanchard in her original workshop stressed too the importance of a nurturing home environment where a person feels ’at home’.

Connecting with the Breath

I found that regular breath work released stress and helped me find a place of inner quietness and calm. Using a simple practice, at least half a dozen times a day, just stopping completely, then taking a slow deep breath in through the nose, down to the belly and out through the mouth. On the out breath totally letting go throughout the whole being.

Every morning I used The Three Breath Entry – relaxing the body on the first outbreath, then emptying the mind, then letting go of everything on the third. This was followed by 6 breaths using alternate nostril breathing – pressing against one side of the nose and breathing through the other – and then taking 6 slow deep breaths through both nostrils. Finally, I’d just spent a few minutes focusing on sounds, in my body, in the space I was in and then the world outside.

There are lots of other breathing techniques you can try to see which one will be best for you such as the 4, 7, 8 (in 4 breaths, hold 7 breaths, out 8 breaths) and the square breathing method (in for 3, hold for 3, out for 3, hold for 3).

Connecting with Self

Connecting with our natural self, our true nature, is a significant factor that can take us away from depression. There are many pressures to conform in modern society that may take us away from who we truly are – our natural inclinations, abilities, and possibility both as an individual and a human being. I have concluded that perhaps the greatest pain someone can suffer is being separated from their true nature.

Japan has been a country with very strong traditions and pressures to conform. Today there is a social crisis with an increasing number of young people being unable and unwilling to function withing those limitations. Many feel a sense of shame and ostracize themselves. In one case a man had lived in his bedroom for 20 years.

If you are open to Astrology this can be a good place to begin to explore ‘Who am I?’ as you try to find and reconnect with your own nature and qualities.

Dance and Movement Therapy was also an important part of my healing and connecting with self. In western culture we tend to worship the rational mind, but science now realises that we function best when we draw on the capacities of both hemispheres of the brain.

I believe we experience and learn things with our whole being, not just the head! So, including the body as we strive to change can aid our progress. The form of dance and movement explorations I used were very much about self-discovery, connectedness, empowerment, and the bigger picture of life.

Separation

A word on separation. Sometimes we can become too bonded to another person making it difficult for us to be true to ourselves, or to let go of a relationship which is no longer working. I found the following simple exercises helpful:
Imagine you are walking up a pathway towards your goal in life (however you see that). Along the way you meet the person you are needing to separate from and you say “If I can help you let me know, but otherwise I’ll see you later” and then you keep walking away and up the path.

Another separation technique is to image strings connecting you to the other person, and then visualise taking a pair of scissors and cutting the strings.

TONE

Tone refers to our physical health and fitness and incorporates diet, exercise, sleep, and things like not smoking and limiting intake of alcohol. Scientific research has expanded enormously in these areas and found strong links between physical and mental health.

We are hearing a lot nowadays about the gut microbiome, the community of microbes that live in our gut, and how toxins from the gut can travel via the vagus nerve into the brain itself, significantly affecting mood.

Some activities that we thought occurred exclusively in the brain have now been proven otherwise. For example, 90% of Serotonin (the Happy Hormone) is actually produced in the gut.

The health of the gut microbiome depends to a large degree on microbial diversity so eating a wide range of wholesome foods is highly beneficial. Healthy gut bacteria love prebiotics like fibre so eating plenty of fruit and vegetables is also a good idea. I have found that eating a fermented food like sauerkraut (a natural probiotic) daily has had a very positive impact on my health.

The ‘stress survivors’ took care of their physical fitness, as well as maintaining a healthy diet, and exercising regularly. Exercise can be anything from regular walks to workouts at the gym to dancing. Yoga and Pilates are also popular choices these days.

Scientific research has shown that exercise directly affects brain health, sending more oxygen to cells and stimulating the production of BDNF, a growth factor that builds more connections between cells. And it improves mood. I remember decades ago going to dance classes sometimes feeling a bit low and being positive, energized and almost jubilant by the end of the class!

A word on sleep. Many of us suffer from poor quality and inadequate sleep which has been shown to have a detrimental effect on mental function and mood. Our modern way of life has a lot to answer for! There are some good sleep meditations and relaxations around, also keeping the bedroom totally dark, getting rid of electronic devices from the room (and not sitting at the computer for at least half an hour before bed) can all help toward better sleep.

Finally, I come back to acceptance and commitment. The degree of depression you are experiencing will impact what you are able to do. Deep depression can mean loss of interest in food and inability to exercise because of exhaustion. Sleep can happen but be unrefreshing. So, this I had to accept in the earlier period of my depression and not berate myself but commit to doing something positive as I felt more able.

You will find your own pace. Be kind to yourself, patient and persevere. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

Guest Blogger  Maggie Poole-Johnson, Stress Therapist

Spend some time with our mindful well-being meditations – Breath and Relaxations, Gratitude, Sleep, and Loving Kindness here …AL

ITS IMPORTANT to note that this blog is not a replacement for professional assistance. There are many professionals offering their services and organisations such as Beyond Blue, Head Space, Psyche Central just waiting to support you.